"Stranger On The Shore?"
At the end of today's 20+ mile walk I had completed almost 170 miles of the Timeless Way and, after Benbecula, there were only four islands and about 60 miles to go. The awful realisation came upon me that in the next five days I would have to stop walking. There would be nowhere else to walk to in the Outer Hebrides; it was a sobering thought. Today's walk was long, tough but great, in lovely weather and frequently following the west coast of North Uist. I was the "stranger on the shore".
I left the Old Shop House B&B, Morag having filled me up with yet another huge Scottish breakfast and provided me with a fine packed lunch. I said "goodbye" to my beloved at about 08:45, turned onto the A865 and stopped at the Bayhead Community Shop to get the latest Stornoway Gazette to try and fathom out, from the tide table, if I'd be able to cross North Ford. From what I could make out it might be possible but I'd have to be quick! In the end I wasn't quite quick enough!
About half a mile after the shop and just about opposite where I had come onto the main road yesterday I took a track down to the grassy area between the beach and the road and followed this S.E. for a bit before realising that I could walk on the beach itself and this I did, except in a few places where I struggled amidst "fields" of slippery seaweed. I continued on the beach to the junction of the A865 and the A867 at Clachan. The views across the beach and over to (I think!) Kirkibost Island were breathtaking in the sunlight.
At Clachan I stopped outside the shop, sat on a bench and had a coffee, banana and muesli bar and to simply admire the wonderful views across the bay.
At the shop I turned up the A867, past a very imposing war memorial, set back from the road, high on the moor and turned right down a minor road (the B894) which I followed to just before a causeway. Along this road I stopped at the small loch Oban a Chlachain and was amazed at the Mediterranean blue of the sparkling water as the light played on it and the breeze ruffled it into wavelets. Friends thought later that I'd enhanced the colour of the photo I took to emphasise the blue. I hadn't; it really was like that.
Just before a causeway and what looked like some sort of fishery building, I turned south onto a track and, guess what, yes - it ended pretty quickly and I was back to the familiar yomping over pretty squelchy moorland once more. Actually, the going wasn't too bad and the route I took meandered between small lochs before rejoining the A865. It had been a pretty and welcome diversion.
At Cairinis (Carinish), close to the Temple Hotel where we'd eaten last night, I had hoped to set off across Oitir Mhòr Sands, known locally as North Ford. However, the tide was on the turn and it looked as if I started to cross I might have to make a mad dash to the shore. So, unwilling to wait many hours to the next low tide and walk across by moonlight, I chickened out. Later I discovered that I might have made it but I would have got VERY wet.
So I continued along the main road opposite Grimsay Island and it wasn't as busy or dangerous as Peter Clarke had implied so I was pretty happy, though increasingly footsore. At the end of the causeway, where the North Ford crossing would have reached land, I noted the deep channel of water which would have made coming ashore dry footed impossible but for the gazelles' long jump champion! On the east side of the causeway, supposedly also passable to Kyles Flodda, the channel was already full. So I continued down the main road to Gramasdal and turned east along a small road, continuing to Kyles Flodda past another beautifully renovated black house.
I turned south to cross more moorland and after an uneventful mile or so I reached some shielings (rough dwellings used by farmers and their families in summer - there's a good explanation of them here) and from there I could see a proper track (WOW!) not far away and heading S.W. around the hill called Ruabhal. Although, at 124m, Ruabhal isn't high, in the low lying Uists and Benbecula it stands out like a small beacon. So I continued along the track, past the "household recycling centre" (the local tip) and onto the A865 - the supposed end of today's walk. However, I thought that if I could continue to tonight's B&B I would have a shorter distance to walk tomorrow and The Boss wouldn't have to drop me off.
So I continued in what I thought was the necessary direction and, surprise, surprise, I went the wrong way, ended up near Benbecula Airport and had to be rescued by my beloved in the red SAAB! She took me to the wonderful Ceann na Pairc Guest House - very modern and seemingly purpose built with all the family accommodation upstairs and guest rooms with a lovely lounge and sitting room downstairs.
I was brought tea and cakes as I arrived and I relaxed for a while to enjoy them. Today had been a wonderful walk with some stunning views in fine weather but, after almost 22 miles (21.7, in fact) I was, to say the least, a trifle knackered! Eventually I got up, did my usual chores and we then headed for the bright lights of Balivanich, the "capital" of Benbecula. We had dinner at the Stepping Stones Restaurant which reminded me a bit of the Anchorage at Leverbergh - basic but friendly and very good.
As we ate, the lovely weather that we'd had all day turned to rain, it absolutely pelted down and, as we sit here in the lounge of Ceann na Pairc, me jotting these notes, the rain is bouncing off the windows. No doubt it'll all be gone by tomorrow and the sun will shine all day long (oh yeah?).
Goodnight dear reader!